According to a story at arstechnica, free online courses aren’t sapping enrollment numbers–in fact, they’re actually helping to spread the word.
Those are the preliminary findings out of Brigham Young University, which experimented recently by granting free access to a selection of its distance learning courses. Though further study is needed in order to see whether there’s a significant impact, educators are beginning to see that offering free materials isn’t the end of the world after all.
The university’s Independent Study offerings have been attractive to students who are unable to make class regularly, either due to geographic distance or because of scheduling conflicts. Its Open CourseWare section offers the general public six classes–three university courses and three high school courses–that anyone on the Web can step through. Of course, you won’t get any credit for taking the course for free, and that’s why BYU hopes you’ll pony up the cash and enroll.
BYU’s director of independent study Justin K. Johansen examined the usage data of the Open CourseWare offerings and found that, over a period of four months, the six courses brought in 445 paid enrollments and 13,795 visitors.
This was mostly business as usual, it seems, as he told the Chronicle of Higher Education that the courses had “neither a large positive marketing effect that boosted enrollments nor a large negative free-rider impact decreasing enrollments.”
Still, Johansen acknowledged that the Open CourseWare selection “ended up serving as an advertising tool,” helping BYU to spread awareness of its distance learning opportunities.
Photo by harrykeely .